Kenenisa Bekele adds the 5000m gold to the 10,000m title he won earlier in the week (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News

Beijing 2008 - Day Nine Summary - 23 Aug

It's not quite Usain Bolt, but Kenenisa Bekele completed an iconic distance double in the Bird's Nest Saturday evening which had escaped the reach of even his hero, Haile Gebrselassie, and lowered one of the oldest Olympic Records in the process.

Bekele lowers 24-year-old OR

Bekele faced a tough field in the 5,000m which included the World champion, Bernard Lagat, who came up from the 1500m. Perhaps that dictated the team tactics the Ethiopians (Bekele, his younger brother Tariku, and Abreham Cherkos) applied from the beginning of the race. From the gun, one of the three Ethiopians was in the lead, forcing the pace, and thinning the pack. All four intermediate 1000m splits went to one of the Bekele brothers. "It's a team race," Bekele said afterward.

The pace got progressively quicker, and the pack correspondingly smaller, until finally Bekele broke from the pack with 2000m remaining and set out on the longest kick we've seen in these Olympics. At first he had the company of the Kenyans Eliud Kipchoge and Edwin Soi, Lagat, Ugandan Moses Kipsiro, and Qatari James C'Kurui, but first C'Kurui, then Lagat fell back. In the final kilometre, it was Kipsiro who faded, and then with a lap remaining Bekele delivered his real kick and ran away from Kipchoge and Soi, who would take silver and bronze respectively.

Bekele became the first man to complete the Olympic 5,000m/10,000m double since Ethiopia's Miruts Yifter did it in Moscow, 1980. His winning time of 12:57.82 broke Said Aouita's Olympic Record of 13:05.59, the second-oldest standing men's OR (the longest is Bob Beamon's Long Jump mark from 1968).

Thorkildsen's last spear a long one

Andreas Thorkildsen of Norway set another OR when his fifth attempt in the Javelin Throw flew out to 90.57m, well beyond the yellow line in the sector which marked the 2000 OR of the great Jan Zelezny. Thorkildsen led the contest from the first round, when he lofted an 84.72m toss, and improved on nearly every throw, continuing with 85.91m, 87.93m and 85.13m before his Olympic Record release.

Latvian Ainars Kovals produced a PB throw of 86.64m in the last round to vault into second and push World champion Tero Pitkamaki of Finland into third. Pitkamaki improved to 86.16m on his last throw, but it wasn't enough to overtake Kovals.

USA men's 4x400 second-fastest ever

The men's 4x400m relay proved to be a bright spot for an American squad which has largely performed below expectations in this Games. The team of LaShawn Merritt, Angelo Taylor, David Neville and Jeremy Wariner included all three 400m medalists and the 400m hurdles medallist (a contender for the U.S. flat squad if he hadn't been stymied by the U.S. Trials schedule), and there wasn't another team in the race with that kind of depth. Still, the surprising Belgians kept it close early on, and the Bahamas team also made a strong effort to stay with the Americans. When Neville handed off cleanly to Wariner, though, the gold medal was almost assured, and the open question was the time.

Wariner ran the last leg as though someone (perhaps Merritt, who bested him in the individual 400m) was on his outside shoulder. When he crossed the line, the clock stopped at 2:55.39, just .10s slower than the World record and a towering .35s faster than the standing OR, set by the U.S. team which won in Barcelona in 1992.

Bahamas anchor Christopher Brown fought off a strong challenge from the Russian team (anchored by Denis Alexeev) to take silver, 2:58.03 to 2:58.06.

Richards races for women's 4x400m win

Sanya Richards, disappointed in the individual 400m, came through in the clutch to deliver another long relay gold for the USA. The squad of Mary Wineberg, Allyson Felix and Monique Henderson had been strong throughout, but after Felix won the break, third leg Tatiana Firova brought the Russian quartet back into the race, walking down Henderson on the homestretch.

Richards was handed a two-stride disadvantage behind Russia's Anastasia Kapachinskaya, but waited behind the Russian on the backstretch and around the bend. With both runners fully extended on the homestretch, then, Richards swung out into lane two and slowly drew even with Kapachinskaya, then pulled ahead to bring in the win, 3:18.54 to 3:18.82. Bronze went to Jamaica in 3:20.40.

Hellebaut snaps Vlasic streak

Blanka Vlasic had been undefeated since June 2007. Had been. After Vlasic cleared 1.85m, 1.89m, 1.93m, 1.96m, 1.99m, 2.01m and 2.03m all on her first attempt, Tia Hellebaut, the World Indoor Pentathlon champion and a former European high jump champion, managed to gain an advantage on the Croatian star by clearing 2.05m (a Belgian National Record) on her first attempt after Vlasic recorded her first miss. Vlasic cleared on her second attempt, but Hellebaut was in the driver's seat and she knew it. After both athletes missed at a potential Olympic Record height of 2.07m, Hellebaut watched Vlasic miss a second time, then coolly passed her remaining attempts to the next height. When Vlasic put up her third miss, Hellebaut's bluff was not forced, and she won Belgium's first gold medal since 1964 (steeplechaser Gaston Roelants) and first gold medal ever for women. (Belgium's women won their first medal of any color when the 4x100m relay took silver on Friday evening.)

Kenyans dominate middle distances

With two Ethiopians taking the four long distance golds, Athletics Kenya has turned to middle distances to fill its quota of gold. They picked up two tonight, starting with the men's 800m, where Wilfred Bungei held off Sudan's Ismail Ismail on the homestretch to win in 1:44.65 to Ismail's 1:44.70. Alfred Yego took bronze in 1:44.82, picking up another medal for the East Africans. Nancy Lagat [previously better known as Langat] ran a 4:00.23 PB in the women's 1500m to win gold there, running away from two hard-charging Ukrainians, Iryna Lishchynska and Nataliya Tobias, on the homestretch. Lishchynska and Tobias took silver and bronze, respectively, in 4:01.63 and 4:01.78; pre-race favorite and World Champion Maryam Yusuf Jama finished fifth in 4:02.71. Lagat was the second-ever Kenyan woman to win an Olympic gold medal only by a quirk of schedule; the first was 800m winner Pamela Jelimo on Monday evening.

With the conclusion of competition on Saturday evening, only one event remains, the men's Marathon, which will take its traditional closing bow Sunday morning at 7:30.

Parker Morse for the IAAF